Channel 4 Programming Boss Outlines “Mixed Economy” Commissioning Plan as Coronavirus Hits Revenues

Ian Katz
Channel 4

U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 says it will have to operate “a mixed economy” when commissioning new shows, as a result of plunging ad revenue during the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking as part of an online Q&A organized by the Edinburgh International TV Festival, Channel 4 director of programs Ian Katz said the broadcaster will have to commission “some (shows) at very low tariffs and some at the more ambitious end.”

“In the short term, we are making lots of television on tariffs lower than we have ever made television before. In the medium term, we’re going to have to make a lot of our television on somewhat lower tariffs,” said Katz.

Katz added: “We’re also making sure that we’ve got the ability to take the big swings on big ambitious shows that are always going to cost more.”

Earlier this month, the “Gogglebox” and “The Circle” broadcaster said it would slash its content budget by £150 million ($185 million) and make £95 million ($118 million) of operational savings in a bid to navigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The cuts were announced against a backdrop of a plunging advertising market, for which Channel 4 relies on for most of its revenue. Channel 4 said the ad market is set to be down in excess of 50% over April and May.

Katz warned Wednesday that producers shouldn’t use the lower tariffs that Channel 4 will offer to pay ‘unfair’ freelance rates. “We should be really clear that where we are paying lower tariffs, we understand that means we need to accept lower specifications on our shows, whether that’s people self-shooting or fewer days in the edit. We do not expect indies to pay unfair wages, and we will be very clear about that,” said Katz.

Katz also addressed the challenges facing the drama sector during the coronavirus pandemic, saying that its scripted slate had been most disrupted out of all genres. “We’ve seen a bunch of shows pushed in some cases months or from year to year.”

He mulled ways in which the drama sector might be able to get back on its feet. “One is to think about the kind of shows which might be easier to fill in corona world, whether that is because they have smaller casts or more contained precincts or involve younger casts, or can somehow be socially distanced effectively.”

He explained that a lot of thought was being given on how to bring Channel 4 soap “Hollyoaks” back to the screen, particularly through storylines that make it more viable to shoot amid social distancing measures.

Katz also outlined his thinking about the kinds of shows he is looking for going forward. “I think people are getting sick of seeing the inside of celebrities houses. It was quite exciting for a while, but not so much anymore.”

He said people are “looking for escapism,” and that as the country emerges from lockdown, Channel 4 would look to offer programming that is “helpful to people as they start to get their life back together.”

“I keep feeling that one of the most striking things about this period is the way we feel more strongly about connections to the family, to the wider community, and I think the big prize is to the writers and producers who can speak to that in a really visceral and compelling way.”

Katz added that Channel 4 would be keen to “explore questions like whether people’s relations with the state is changing, whether their relationship with consumerism is changing, their feelings about a globalized world, about science…It’s all been churned up.”

Katz’s comments came as Channel 4 unveiled a new slate of lockdown programming today.

They include celebrity property show “Snoop Dogs,” produced by Northern Ireland-based Stellify Media.

The socially distanced format sees cameras go inside the locked-down houses of well-known faces on the back of the homeowners’ dogs.

The identities of the celebrities are kept under wraps until the end of each episode as viewers play along to guess who the canine-loving homeowner could be.